Political Science

The author is Michael North, and this new and excellent book, when it comes to the earlier centuries, emphasizes the role of Swedes and Germans in shaping a region of prosperity and trade.  The most interesting section (starts p.239) is about the 1920s, when the Baltic nations underwent a radical deindustrialization, due to their severing from the Russian empire.  That is when they deviated from the Nordic economies, which for the most part continued their industrialization.

I also recommend Sverre Bagge, Cross & Scepter: The Rise of the Scandinavian Kingdoms from the Vikings to the Reformation.  If nothing else, this book will make you wonder if the recent success of the Nordic nations are in fact so deeply historically rooted after all.  As North (p.205) points out: “Industrialization arrived in all of these countries relatively late.”  Tom Buk-Swienty’s 1864: The Forgotten War That Shaped Modern Europe is a good book on how and why Denmark lost so much territory to Prussia/Germany.

That is the new Anders Aslund book, and it is instructive throughout.  Here are a few things I learned:

1. 80 percent of Ukrainian youth receive higher education of some kind.

2. Ukraine has the world’s highest rate of pension expenditures as a share of gdp, at about 18 percent, circa 2010.  Most of that is old age pensions, and that is for a population with a relatively short lifespan, 68.5 years, 122th in the world according to UNDP.

3. At the time of publication, Ukraine’s public expenditures stood at 53 percent of gdp.

4. “Ukraine is running out of money…”  OK, that one I already knew.

5. “No economy has fared as poorly in peacetime as Ukraine did from 1989 to 1999.  For a decade, Ukrainian GDP plummeted by a total of 61 percent, according to official statistics.”  Some of this, however, was offset by the growth of black markets.

6. Crimea is no longer included in Ukraine’s formal measure of gdp, although Donbas is still included.

1. You cannot build and sustain a polity on the idea of redistributing wealth to take advantage of differences in the marginal utility of money across varying wealth classes.

2. The ideas you can sustain a polity around often contradict the notion of socially arbitraging MU differences to try to boost total utility.

3. The MU argument, in isolation, is therefore rarely compelling.  Furthermore its “naive” invocation is often a sign of underlying weakness in the policy case someone is trying to make.  The proposed policy may simply be too at odds with otherwise useful social values.

4. This is related to why parties from “the traditional Left” so often lose elections, including in a relatively statist Europe.

5. That all said, sometimes we should in fact take advantage of MU differences in marginal increments of wealth and use them to drive policy.

6. Figuring out how to deal with this tension — ignoring MU differences, or pursuing them — is a central task of political philosophy.

7. The selective invocation of the differential MU argument — or the case against it — will make it difficult to improve your arguments over time; arguably it is a sign of intellectual superficiality.

In 2012 economists at the University of Auckland published research establishing clear correlations between family circumstances and incidents of child abuse or neglect. “No one realized we were sitting on such rich data in terms of its predictive power,” says Rhema Vaithianathan, who led the research. “We can find children who are at considerably elevated risk, and we can find them at birth.”

And:

Using data from welfare, education, employment, and housing agencies and the courts, the government identified the most expensive welfare beneficiaries—kids who have at least one close adult relative who’s previously been reported to child safety authorities, been to prison, and spent substantial time on welfare. “There are million-dollar kids in those families,” English says. “By the time they are 10, their likelihood of incarceration is 70 percent. You’ve got to do something about that.”

Moving closer to home:

Jennie Feria, who oversees risk assessment for L.A.’s Department of Children and Family Services, says one idea is to rate families, giving them a number that could be used to identify who’s most at risk in the way lenders rely on credit scores to determine creditworthiness. “The way we may use it, it’s going to be like it’s a FICO score,” Feria says. The information, she says, could be used both to prioritize cases and to figure out who needs extra services. “It’s at the very early stages, because we don’t know how we’re going to use it yet exactly.”

It will be interesting to see how that one develops.  The article is by Josh Eidelson.

My research convinced me that bounty hunters were an effective part of the American justice system so I have long favored using large bounties to find international terrorists. In 2008 the Washington Post argued that Bounties were a Bust in Hunt for Al-Qaeda:

So far, however, Rewards for Justice has failed to put a dent in al-Qaeda’s central command. Offers of $25 million each for al-Qaeda founders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have attracted hundreds of anonymous calls but no reliable leads, officials familiar with the program say. For a time, the program was generating so little useful information that in Pakistan, where most al-Qaeda chiefs are believed to be hiding, it was largely abandoned.

“It’s certainly been ineffective,” said Robert L. Grenier, a former CIA station chief in Pakistan and former director of the agency’s counterterrorism center. “It hasn’t produced results, and it hasn’t particularly produced leads.”

I wasn’t impressed with that argument at the time and now Seymour Hersh says it wasn’t torture or the billions spent spying on the world that led to bin Laden’s discovery but a bounty:

…the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US…

I can’t evaluate Hersh’s larger claims but I find this part of the story plausible.

 Addendum: The time I went bounty hunting in Baltimore.

One of the perennial worries about immigration, especially from libertarian/conservative types, is that it will corrode the foundations of a free society. Using the Economic Freedom of the World Index, Clark, Lawson, Nowrasteh, Powell, and Murphy find no evidence for this fear. Countries that accept more immigrants tend if anything to grow in economic freedom:

The economics literature generally finds a positive, but small, gain in income to native-born populations from immigrants and potentially large gains in world incomes. But immigrants can also impact a recipient nation’s institutions. A growing empirical literature supports the importance of strong private property rights, a rule of law, and an environment of economic freedom for promoting long-run prosperity. But little is known about how immigration impacts these institutions. This paper empirically examines how immigration impacts a nation’s policies and institutions. We find no evidence of negative and some evidence of positive impacts in institutional quality as a result of immigration.

The published paper is here.  An ungated version is here.

Bryan Caplan considers this question in a very useful blog post.  He serves up these hypotheses, though I think without committing to any particular one of them:

1. Despite their rarity and absence on the front lines of politics, self-conscious libertarians still strongly shape mainstream conservative politicians’ economic policies.

2. Self-conscious libertarians, though rare, have still managed to sharply shift public opinion in a libertarian direction.

3. Self-conscious libertarians, though politically impotent, are a symbol of what’s wrong with American politics.

And then there are the stories the critics won’t embrace, but perhaps they’re true nonetheless…

4. Libertarians, unlike mainstream conservatives, openly defend many unpopular views.  Intellectuals who want to loudly champion popular views have to engage libertarians because there’s hardly anyone else to argue with.

5. Libertarian arguments, though mistaken, are consistently clever enough to get under the critics’ skin.  The purpose of the criticism is not shielding the world from bad ideas but giving the critics some intellectual catharsis.

6. Libertarian arguments are good enough to weigh on the critics’ intellectual consciences.  They attack libertarians to convince themselves that we’re wrong.  And they keep attacking us because they keep failing to fully convince themselves.

But I see more options.  Consider a simple model where bureaucracies maximize output, and try to produce correct output.  In my view, the more mainstream thinkers criticize libertarians so much because a) it helps them generate output, and b) they think they have the better arguments.   There is a clear target, easily explained (not always correctly explained, however), and very often the target can be taken on with a minimum of detailed empirical investigation.  Furthermore the arguments against the libertarian often position the critic in a favorable ideological space, especially for left-wingers: “look, there are people who believe this, better come ally with me!”

If we are talking about “The Left,” the libertarian is about the most welcome intellectual opponent there is.  The real scourge, correctly or not, is the common sense morality of the center.  That’s right, the people who favor and distrust big government at the same time, the people who think the poor deserve welfare support but only so much, the people who distrust intellectual elites and cosmopolitanism, the people who side with police more than they ought to, and yes the people who think Medicare is more based on just deserts than is Medicaid.

That set of views does not describe me well, but the funny thing is — unlike with both far left and libertarian ideas — we do in fact know you can build a workable polity from them.  The libertarians are so much more of a tempting opponent.

I thought so at first, upon seeing the election results with strong SNP dominance.  But upon further consideration, I’ve changed my mind.  Here’s why:

1. A ruling British government simply doesn’t have to allow another referendum.  Or they can time a referendum in a favorable manner, or insist on more favorable conditions the next time around, such as allowing Scots who live in England to vote.

2. Independence advocates realize that if a referendum fails a second time around, they will never get a third chance.  So they will hesitate before moving forward again.

3. Holding 56 out of 59 seats is a pretty sweet lock for SNP.  There will be a temptation to settle for the current form of electoral competition, rather than face a newly competitive Scottish national politics, or face being the backers of another failed referendum.

4. For many Scots, voting for SNP may be a substitute for independence (“we want to be as Scottish as possible, except…and who better to safeguard that Scots heritage politically?”) rather than a path toward independence.  SNP itself stressed that a vote for SNP was not a vote for independence, and every now and then, believe it or not, political parties should be taken at their word.

Arguably Brexit could prompt a quick and strong desire to secede, but otherwise I am betting on the Union to continue.

It is basically statist vs. classical liberal, and it is strongly uni-dimensional.  Those are the main lessons from a new and interesting paper by Jennifer Pan and Yiqing Xu:

We offer the first large scale empirical analysis of ideology in contemporary China to determine whether individuals fall along a discernible and coherent ideological spectrum, and whether there are regional and inter-group variations in ideological orientation. Using principal component analysis (PCA) on a survey of 171,830 individuals, we identify one dominant ideological dimension in China. Individuals who are politically conservative, who emphasize the supremacy of the state and nationalism, are also likely to be economically conservative, supporting a return to socialism and state-control of the economy, and culturally conservative, supporting traditional, Confucian values. In contrast, political liberals, supportive of constitutional democracy and individual liberty, are also likely to be economic liberals who support market-oriented reform and social liberals who support modern science and values such as sexual freedom. This uni-dimensionality of ideology is robust to a wide variety of diagnostics and checks. Using post-stratification based on census data, we find a strong relationship between liberal orientation and modernization — provinces with higher levels of economic development, trade openness, urbanization are more liberal than their poor, rural counterparts, and individuals with higher levels of education and income and more liberal than their less educated and lower-income peers.

Here is some NYT coverage of the piece.  Here is some good Foreign Policy coverage.  Currently this is the most downloaded piece on SSRN.

*Guantánamo Diary*

by on May 9, 2015 at 12:33 pm in Books, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

That is the recent book by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who has been held at Guantánamo for many years.  This is a classic of prison literature, and I will teach it next year in my Law and Literature class.  Almost every page is interesting:

It is just amazing that the FBI trusts the Jordanians more than the other American intelligence agencies.

And:

I don’t know any other language that writes Colonel and pronounces it Kernel.

His written English is quite good.  Definitely recommended, and the heavily redacted nature of the text enhances the reading experience rather than detracting from it.  Here is a good review from The Guardian.

Jonathan Rauch, Political Realism: How Hacks, Machines, Big Money, and Back-Room Deals Can Strengthen American Democracy.  The tag “self-recommending” was made for books like this one.  According to Rauch, transparency is overrated and politics should be more transactional.

Jeffrey Towson and Jonathan Woetzel, The One Hour China Consumer Book: Five Short Stories That Explain the Brutal Fight for One Billion Customers.  The short tale of why the most successful beer companies are the state-owned enterprises is alone worth the price of this book.

And I just downloaded Hugo Dixon’s The In/Out Question, which argues the UK should try to stay in the European Union…

The exit polls are predicting a solid Conservative victory, as is most of my Twitter feed and most importantly the bookies.  If indeed this comes to pass, it has (at least) two pretty simple implications:

1. A people “wise enough” to opt for government-owned hospitals and single-payer health care have decided they want government smaller, not bigger.  You will note “UK public spending was 36.6% of gdp in 2000, and had edged up over 50% by 2009 and 2010 and now [2013] is still in the range of 49% or so.”  The Tories are indeed the party for smaller government.

2. The verdict is sufficiently positive on the “austerity experiment” (not what I prefer to call it, but that is a different story).  I know this is literally unfathomable to the authors of the 7,243 blog posts I have read criticizing or perhaps even savagely attacking UK austerity, but here’s the nub of the matter:  If indeed the UK should have a smaller government relative to gdp, in the medium term it will make up all of the relevant lost ground, and then some.  A lot of UK voters understand that, a lot of American and British intellectuals do not, even though the latter are the ones who have studied the Solow model.  I do not a priori dismiss the “labor market scarring story,” but if there is any country where it does not seem to apply it is the UK, which has had quite a rapid labor market bounce back.

Anyway, electoral events may yet surprise us, but at the very least the Tories are still in the running.  Scott Sumner comments as well.  By the way, if SNP really did take 58 out of 59 Scottish seats, it does seem to me that Great Britain will split up, much to my chagrin.  So I am not overall cheered by the exit poll.

Robin Grier (with Jerry F. Hough) puts it thus:

The great weakness of the Spanish government was not its bureaucratic nature, but its inability to build an effective bureaucracy until the 1700s. Without an effective bureaucracy, Spain was doomed to a personalistic policy process in which options and tradeoffs often were not properly weighed. Rulers could not trust the market because they were incapable of taxing decentralized economic activity.

One example of the lack of bureaucratic capability during the 1500s and 1600s is found in the example of Philip’s attempt to conquer England with the Spanish Armada. Until the 1580s Philip’s “defense department” had only one secretary assisted by a handful of clerks, none with military experience.

As he prepared to launch the Spanish Armada to try to conquer England, he doubled the number of responsible defense officials to two – one for the army and one for navy!

The ships were largely rented from Genoa. Although many of them were sunk in the failed attack, Philip did not try to build a merchant fleet of his own to match Elizabeth’s rapid expansion of her armed merchant fleet at the same time.

That is from her new and excellent The Long Process of Development: Building Markets and States in Pre-industrial England, Spain and their Colonies, recommended.  This is essential reading for the history of colonial Mexico in particular.

After the pagan fighters left their stronghold, a crowd of  Christian Alexandrians and soldiers swarmed the hill.  One of them took an axe and with all his strength struck the jaw of the monumental statue of Serapis…The crowd then hacked the rest of the statue into pieces and dragged the fragments off to each of the city’s regions to be burned.

…The destruction of the Serapeum [A.D. 392] was a momentous event, second perhaps only to the Gothic sack of Rome in 410 for the amount of attention it received from contemporary sources.

That is from the new and excellent book The Final Pagan Generation, by Edward J. Watts.  Watts tries to reconstruct the worldviews and impressions of the pagans who witnessed the onset of Roman state-sanctioned Christianity; an underlying theme of the work is how weak a sense we have of what is truly significant in our time, or not.  I often find Roman histories to be difficult to parse, but this one is a model of lucidity.

Here is Wikipedia on that temple and its destruction.  Here is another discussion.

Serapeum

 

The limited data available do not suggest a recent overall increase in the number of homicides by police or the racial composition of those killed, despite the high-profile cases and controversies of 2014-2015, according to a New York Times analysis. But a January 2015 report published in the Harvard Public Health Review, “Trends in U.S. Deaths due to Legal Intervention among Black and White men, Age 15-34 Years, by County Income Level: 1960-2010,” suggests persistent differences in risks for violent encounters with police: “The rate ratio for black vs. white men for death due to legal intervention always exceeded 2.5 (median: 4.5) and ranged from 2.6 (95% confidence interval [CI] 2.1, 3.1) in 2001 to 10.1 (95% CI 8.7, 11.7) in 1969, with the relative and absolute excess evident in all county income quintiles.”

And this:

For the most recent period where statistics are available (2003-2009), the BJS found that 4,813 persons “died during or shortly after law enforcement personnel attempted to arrest or restrain them… About 60% of arrest-related deaths (2,931) were classified as homicides by law enforcement personnel.” However, among these 2,931 homicides by law enforcement personnel, 75.3% were reported to have taken place in response to a violent offense — constituting a force-on-force situation, such as an intervention with an ongoing assault, robbery or murder: “Arrests for alleged violent crimes were involved in three of every four reported homicides by law enforcement personnel.” Still, 7.9% took place in the context of a public-order offense, 2.7% involved a drug offense, and among 9.2% of all homicides by police no specific context was reported.

There is much more of interest at the Harvard Kennedy School link.